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How to Lobby Like A Pro

By Kate MacDougall

Professional lobbyists will tell you: as important as what they say is how they say it - and to whom. Whether you want an empty lot turned into a neighbourhood playground or an amendment to federal tobacco advertising legislation, you need to lobby like a pro.

Think of your issue as a marketing challenge. Get to know your "market" and your "product." Research and use focus groups to find out what the public thinks. What are your objectives and expectations? Who are your opponents? Why are they opposing? Who have they called on for support? Why are they opposing? What would make them change their minds? How can you best approach them? Who is on your side? How can you use their support most effectively?

Identifying the precise legislation and level of government you should approach is essential. Even the smallest of issues is governed by multiple tiers of legislation. To identify which levels of government you need to approach, break your interest into parts. Find out what levels of government have jurisdiction over the various dimensions of your issue. Once you've determined which departments and ministries are involved identify which specific laws affect your issue and finally who the key decision-makers are. A copy of Parliamentary Names & Numbers is an invaluable reference tool at this stage.

Choose one or more spokespersons to represent your group. They can be members of your group, lawyers, public figures, or even member of an agency that sympathizes with your cause.

In choosing your advocates ask yourself: Is this advocate the best spokesperson for your cause? Does the advocate know the history and purposes behind the issues? Can the advocate present your group's viewpoint in a logical and convincing manner? Is the advocate sincerely interested in the issue or simply promoting his or her personal interest?

It is crucial for your group to understand the process involved with your targeted piece of legislation as it moves through Parliament or any legislative body.

Once you understand the process you'll see when and how to intervene. At this point you have several options. Many organizations opt for postcards and petitions to legislators. The sheer volume required to attract any serious attention, however, can be an obstacle for smaller groups. Well-placed and well-written personal letters can have more impact. Above all, encourage citizens outside your group to write letters of their own.

The more letters, phone calls, and faxes a politician receives, the more seriously s/he will take them.

Some very important tips to keep you lobbying like a pro:

  1. Use the Media. Whatever message you're sending to legislators, send it to the media as well. Legislators are highly sensitive to comments by the media. Let the media know what you're up to through press releases, letters to the editor, advertisements, and phone calls. Make your media spokespersons accessible to the media. Responding quickly and openly to media requests for information and interviews will ensure that they take you seriously.
  2. Use the Opposition. Never underestimate the power of the opposition parties. For a well-rounded lobbying campaign you must brief the opposition parties. They welcome input on new legislation. Information you have will help them prepare their questions and statements in the legislature.
  3. Use the "Public Interest." Governments see themselves as making legislative decisions based on what they view as the public interest. Emphasize that your group's concerns are consistent with the public interest and that the alternatives are not.

Lobbying plays an important part in Canada's democracy. It influences governments to take account of a diverse range of interests. Whether it's a large corporation with a paid in-house government consultant or a small special interest group starting a basement letter- writing campaign, lobbying provides avenues for Canadians to voice their concerns. Lobby effectively to ensure that your voice is heard.

This article originally appeared in Parliamentary Names & Numbers , the directory of Canada's federal and provincial governments. Annual subscriptions toParliamentary Names & Numbers include two print editions and access to the continuously updated online version. For subscription information call 416-964-5735 or see